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Cold Snap – How to take better family portraits this Christmas

Cold Snap – How to take better family portraits this Christmas

Child’s play

Take better photos of your children this winter. Bicester based photographer Sarah Plater has some professional advice.

A quick snap is a great way to capture a memory, but what if you want to create portraits of your children that are a little more special?

Sarah Plater is a qualified, Bicester-based portrait photographer. She’s co-written two books on portrait photography, including the best-selling title Mastering Portrait Photography, and she’s co-founder of the training website MasteringPortraitPhotography.com.

She’s got four tips to help you improve your portraits, no matter what type of camera you’re using. After you’ve read them, head to page 74 to be in with a chance of winning a family portrait session with Sarah, including a framed print.


Improving your control of light will make the biggest difference to the quality of the portraits you create. When outdoors on a bright day, place your child in a shaded area. This will stop high contrast backgrounds and unflattering shadows on your child’s face spoiling your shot.

The sun is much softer at the start and end of the day, so you can work more easily with direct sunlight at these times. Position your child so that the sun’s rays are falling on the back of his or her head, outlining their hair with a beautiful rim-light. Keep the lens of your camera in shade by shielding it with one hand to avoid sun flare.

Indoors, turn off all your artificial lights and look for the brightest room with the biggest window(s). Hang thin nets or white sheets across the window to soften the light if direct sunbeams are coming into the room. Face your child towards the light, and take the picture with your back to the window.


Catchlights are the white reflections in a person’s eyes, caused by the light source that’s hitting their face. Without them, eyes look dull and lifeless, so always check you can see them before taking your picture. The nearer and bigger the light source (whether that’s a window, or a patch of bright sky above), the bigger the catchlights will be. If you can’t see catchlights, move their position or change your angle until you can see the light reflected in their eyes.


For a light, fresh feel to your portraits, choose plain white or pale-coloured walls as backgrounds when indoors. Clear away as much life clutter as you can, so there’s less to distract from the people in your photograph.

When choosing outfits, avoid clothes with big patterns, logos or graphics as these will distract from your child’s face. For siblings, choose simply-styled clothes in complimentary colours. When photographing your children outdoors, pick clothes that will stand out in the location you are heading to. For example, go for bold, block-coloured clothing in reds, blues and purples when you’re heading to a wintry forest, and avoid greens and browns which will blend in with the trees.


Swap out of mum or dad mode – your children should associate having photographs taken with having fun, otherwise it will become something they dread and need to be cajoled into. Instead, turn it into a game and children will be happy to take part.

This playful approach also has the advantage of creating genuine expressions. If you ask someone to smile, they usually use just the muscles around their mouth, whereas a genuine smile also reaches a person’s eyes. Play lots of short, mini-games, and take the pressure off everyone: five minutes of participation followed by a break and another five minutes of participation is good going!


Make sure you are in some of the photos There are many important occasions in life when you need to give the camera to someone else and get in the picture. Be the person holding the cake; be the proud mum or dad beaming at your son or daughter. When your child looks back at these photos, you want to be a visible part of their life and their milestones. Photographs reinforce memories, so think carefully about whether you need to be in the shot rather than taking it.

You can read more articles like this one in the latest edition of Thame Out.